Upper GI Series

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What is an upper gastrointestinal (GI) series?

An upper GI series is a procedure in which a doctor uses x-rays, fluoroscopy, and a chalky liquid called barium to view your upper GI tract. The barium will make your upper GI tract more visible on an x-ray.

The two types of upper GI series are

  • a standard barium upper GI series, which uses only barium
  • a double-contrast upper GI series, which uses both air and barium for a clearer view of your stomach lining

Why do doctors use upper GI series?

An upper GI series can help a doctor find the cause of

An upper GI series can also show

How do I prepare for an upper GI series?

To prepare for an upper GI series, don’t eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum. You also will need to talk with your doctor.

Don’t eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum

In order to see your upper GI tract clearly, your doctor will most likely ask you not to eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum during the 8 hours before the upper GI series.

Talk with your doctor

You should talk with your doctor about any medical conditions you have and all prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements you take.

A health care professional speaks to a woman about her medical history
Talk with your doctor about any medical conditions you have and all prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and supplements you take.

Doctors don’t recommend x-rays for pregnant women because x-rays may harm the fetus. Tell your doctor if you are, or may be, pregnant. Your doctor may suggest a different procedure.

A doctor may recommend an upper GI series for your child when the benefits of the procedure outweigh the relatively small risk of x-rays. Talk with your child's doctor about safety measures used to lower your child's exposure to x-rays during the procedure.

How do doctors perform an upper GI series?

An x-ray technician and a radiologist perform an upper GI series at a hospital or an outpatient center. You do not need anesthesia. The procedure usually takes about 2 hours. The procedure can take up to 5 hours if the barium moves slowly through your small intestine.

For the procedure, you’ll be asked to stand or sit in front of an x-ray machine and drink barium, which coats the lining of your upper GI tract. You will then lie on the x-ray table, and the radiologist will watch the barium move through your GI tract on the x-ray and fluoroscopy. The technician may press on your abdomen or ask you to change position several times to evenly coat your upper GI tract with the barium.

If you are having a double-contrast study, you will swallow gas-forming crystals that mix with the barium coating your stomach. Gas forms when the crystals and barium mix. The gas expands your stomach, which lets the radiologist see more details of your upper GI tract lining. The technician will then take additional x-rays.

What should I expect after an upper GI series?

After an upper GI series, you can expect the following:

  • You may have cramping in your abdomen and bloating during the first hour after the procedure.
  • You may resume most normal activities after leaving the hospital or outpatient center.
  • For several days, your stools may be white or light colored from the barium in your GI tract.
  • A health care professional will give you instructions on how to care for yourself after the procedure. The instructions will explain how to flush the remaining barium from your GI tract. You should follow all instructions.

A specialist will read the x-rays and send a report of the findings to your doctor.

What are the risks of an upper GI series?

The risks of an upper GI series include

Last Reviewed August 2016
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.